In other words, both the publisher and the retailer are under the gun only to pick books that sell, and usually to limit the number of books on shelves:

  • The publisher can’t afford to waste paying the publishing and shipping costs plus the co-op fee for a book that will get returned to them.
  • The retailer can’t afford to waste shelf space on a book that won’t generate any revenue beyond the co-op fee—he has literally tens of thousands of other published-this-year titles in your category that he could have stocked in place of your book.

For this reason, both parties make decisions based on a risk-management model. The publisher would rather push too few books out to the bookstore, because if the book sells out, it can be re-stocked without penalty, and the bookstore would rather have fewer copies of an untested book on their shelf simply because they can’t afford to waste the shelf space on a non-seller.

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Pre-Judging Your Book for Shelf Space

When the bookstore buyers make a decision to stock and shelve a certain book, they decide on the number of copies and the amount of shelf space fairly carefully, and with an eye towards risk management.

That means they “grade” books based upon:

  • An author’s past book sales with the retailer
  • The publisher’s average sales for that category with the retailer
  • The retailer’s current sales for that category

Nowhere on the list is how important, insightful, well written or nice looking the book is. It’s simply not part of the calculation. Also, for a new author, the publisher’s sales performance for that category matters more than ever, simply because the author’s sales performance is an unknown.

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